Time for a review of another classic arcade game from the 1980's, this time focusing on The NewZealand Story, another coin-op classic from Taito. Even if you didn't get to play this in the arcades, it was converted to just about every home computer and console of the day, so I'd be surprised if any of my older readers haven't heard about this. For those of you too young to remember the game at the time of release, please read on as I'm pretty certain this is a game worth checking out.
The game begins in Auckland zoo where Tiki the Kiwi is enjoying life in the sun with his girlfriend, Phee-Phee and the rest of his Kiwi friends (one of whom seems have developed a taste for cigarettes judging by the intro - censors would never allow that these days!). However, disaster strikes when a large Leopard Seal (Wally the Walrus in other versions) manages to Kiwi-napp Phee-Phee and all of Tiki's Kiwi chums. Fortunately, Tiki manages to escape and embarks on mission to rescue the others before they become seal chow!
The game is an 8-way scrolling platform game featuring a series of expansive, maze-like levels that are quite unlike what most gamers would have come to expect from an arcade platformer at the time of release.
Each of the stages contains one of Tiki's captive friends that must be rescued in order to progress to the next level. the player each level that the player must locate and release before they can progress to the next stage. As you might expect, this is far from easy thanks in no small part to an extensive range of spiked pits, pools of lava and all other manner of traps littered around each of the levels. Then there's the plethora of outlandish enemies, all of whom are prepared to do their damnedest to prevent Tiki from succeeding in his mission.
One of the most memorable, not to mention weirdest, features of the game are the enemies that teleport into existence through "windows" in the background. If this wasn't strange enough, many of these creatures are riding inflatable balloons, allowing them to float through the air whilst attacking Tiki from a distance. Tiki can steal the balloons and use them himself, either by shooting the enemies off with his bow and arrow, or by jumping on top of the balloon and dislodging it's current occupier - commandeering balloons is a skill you need to get good at early on since there are many platforms that Tiki simply cannot reach through jumping alone.
Bad guys dispatched by Tiki will often leave an assortment of goodies behind, including fruit (bonus points), extra weapons, as well as special items that include a stop-watch to freeze time, and a spell-book(?) that acts as a smart-bomb, taking out all enemies currently on screen. There are also letter bubbles hidden throughout each of the levels that spell out the word "EXTEND"; collect all the letters and you'll receive an extra life.
Anyone familiar with Taito's other arcade games will be unsurprised to learn that there's more to this game than meets the eye. Hidden throughout many of the game's levels are secret warp doors that only appear when shot a certain number of times; these warps will teleport Tiki to different levels, usually resulting in a shortcut to a later point in the game, or to a room with bonus items that would otherwise be inaccessible through normal means. This hidden content wasn't always included in the various home ports of the game; I'd grown up with the Commodore 64 version, and, whilst an excellent version in most respects, it didn't include any of the warps or hidden content.
If you thought that the warp doors were the only secret in the game then you'd be wrong! Should Tiki be unfortunate enough to lose all of his lives, then, depending on the current stage, access to a secret "Heaven" stage is unlocked. In these stages, Tiki can escape death by finding the hidden exit in the stage, which itself acts like a warp and can be used to skip certain levels. However, should Tiki not find the hidden exit, and, instead finds the "Goddess" then the player is presented with a (very) bitter-sweet ending as Tiki finds peace amongst the heavens.
The game features some fantastic artwork, both inters of character sprites and background artwork for the time, and, due to the resurgence in popularity of pixel artwork, it looks as good today as it did back when the game was first released. I particularly liked the small details worked into some of the character animations, such as the way Tiki and certain enemies bob up and down as they walk.
Anyone who's ever played Bubble Bobble will know Taito's ability for creating incredibly catchy music for their video games and this game is no exception; I'm pretty sure that, of all the video game theme music that people remember, The NewZealand Story is one of those remembered the most. Personally, I think the arcade version sounds a little flat compared to some of those created for the home conversions, but it's still great nonetheless.
In terms of gameplay, this is a great example of the platform genre that gamers of all ages should enjoy. That being said, this is a coin-op game, so the gameplay can be extremely unforgiving in later levels (especially round 4-4...the spikes inside the ship are annoying as Hell!); younger gamers may well find the game too frustrating for their tastes. Fortunately, there is some consolation in that Tiki respawns quite close to where he dies, so the game doesn't force you to replay the entire level like some games of the era did.
Overall, The NewZealand Story is a tough, yet rewarding, platform game with plenty of content, all spiced up with some quirky humour and Japanese arcade weirdness that I'm sure most gamers will still find fun playing today!